Stanley Robert Smith: Who Knew?

As much as I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, it seems unlikely that certain portions of the family were oblivious of Stanley’s actions leading up to his arrest for violations of the Dyer Act.

The barn on Park Street that Stanley and his cohorts used to store and work on their stolen vehicles was most likely on the property of his wife’s parents, the Foremans.  How else would the police have known to look there first?  The lot was not a particularly large one as the Foremans lived in town.

I’ve never removed and replaced a car’s engine before, but I would guess it is neither a quiet nor a clean job.  It is hard to imagine that no one in the family ever heard metallic clanging from the barn or saw people move cars and car parts in and out.

My own great-grandparents, Oliver Arras and Clara Viola Smith, also likely suspected that something was going on.  Suddenly, during the Great Depression, two of their college-aged sons had cars of their own.  From the stories told within the family, money was tight enough that meat was not often on the table during this time period.  A lot of our favorite family recipes–noodles and mashed potatoes, potato soup with rivels–have their source in the Arrases’ lean times.  My grandma would not eat milk gravy as an adult because her family had had to rely on it so many times when she was a child.

Even today, when these financial considerations don’t apply, I cannot imagine my children suddenly appearing with cars of their own.  I’d probably worry that they were selling drugs.

Perhaps, then, the question is not, “Did the family know?”, but “Why did they stay quiet?”

Maybe the money that Stanley and his nephew brought in was helping to support their families.  Both families had young children at home.

Perhaps they just couldn’t bring themselves to report their own relatives to the police.

What do you think?

 

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Indexing: Wills of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, 1855

If you need help navigating to the Pennsylvania probate records on FamilySearch, click here for guidance.

Today’s data is from “Wills 1839-1870 vol 3-5”. Check the first column of the table below for the image number. Type it into the box near the top of the page on FamilySearch (Image __ of 701) to find the desired image.

259 Mary Ross Burrell 4 Jan 1855
260 John Tilbrook Sewickley 19 Jan 1855
Hugh Owens Allegheny 9 Feb 1855
261 Christian Walthour North Huntingdon 7 Mar 1855
Henry Reator Cook 8 Mar 1855
262 William Clark Fairfield 13 Mar 1855
Jacob Brough Donegal 14 Mar 1855
263 Armor Mellon Unity 31 Mar 1855
Polly Rugh Washington 2 Apr 1855
264 George Myers Hempfield 6 Apr 1855
Robert S Nickerson Derry 27 Apr 1855
265 Michael Meyer Saltlick Twp, Fayette County 28 Apr 1855
266 Allen Rose East Huntingdon 1 May 1855
John Hunter Mt Pleasant 1 May 1855
267 Abraham Stockberger Unity 4 May 1855
Sarah Hurst Mt Pleasant 7 May 1855
268 Thomas Elder Derry 11 May 1855
269 Anne Jane Anderson Borough of Mt Pleasant 15 May 1855
Philip Klingensmith Allegheny 17 May 1855
Cordelia Smith Borough of Greensburg 28 May 1855
270 Samuel Kooken Unity 6 Jun 1855
Thomas Copperstone Borough of Youngstown 15 Jun 1855
271 Agnes Kirker Franklin 28 Jun 1855
Mary Burkholder Derry 3 Jul 1855
272 Gideon G Beer Sewickley 10 Jul 1855
John McDonald Allegheny Co., Maryland 12 Jul 1855
Adam Fisher Mt Pleasant 31 Jul 1855
273 James McLaughlin Burrell 6 Aug 1855
Paul Warden East Huntingdon 21 Aug 1855
274 Joseph Guiger Franklin 31 Aug 1855
William Crosby North Huntingdon 6 Sep 1855
275 Samuel Orr Rostraver 6 Sep 1855
Robert Rainey Salem 7 Sep 1855
276 Samuel Oliver Hempfield 15 Sep 1855
277 Maria Craig 22 Sep 1855
John Campbell Fairfield 19 Oct 1855
Sarah Johnston Unity 20 Oct 1855
278 Peter Uncapher Loyalhanna 22 Oct 1855
James Kirkwood Washington 13 Nov 1855
Jane Fleming 16 Nov 1855
279 Margaret Fleming 16 Nov 1855
William W McClain Borough of Mt Pleasant 27 Nov 1855
280 Peter George Sr Hempfield 1 Dec 1855
281 Elizabeth Hill Ligonier 11 Dec 1855
Elias Peterson Unity 11 Dec 1855
282 John Martin Wentzler South Huntingdon 26 Dec 1855
John Kline Penn 19 Dec 1855

Stanley Robert Smith: “Horse Laugh”

It seems that Stanley was lucky the county prosecutor, Marcus C. Downing, had such an interesting sense of humor:

HORSE LAUGH
Former Prosecutor Admits One on Him

Even an astute prosecuting attorney gets it “hung over” on him occasionally as Former Prosecuting Attorney Downing will tell you–if you ask him.

Some months ago Stanley Smith Findlay young man who pleaded guilty in Toledo Thursday to automobile thefts, told this one on the former prosecutor:

Smith returned from Ft. Wayne, Ind., with a stolen car.  In order to get in touch with his companion in crime, George Foster who pleaded guilty yesterday also, Smith drove onto Beech avenue and parked in front of a lighted home to use the phone.  When he rapped at the door the then prosecutor came to the door.  (Downing had twice sent Smith to jail on offenses and recognized him.)

“Hello Mr. Downing,” Smith said when he recognized his adversary in court.  “Ah, er — can I use your phone?”

“Sure, come in,” said Downing.  Whereupon Smith said he called up Foster, though the prosecutor knew nothing of the conversation.

“How are you getting along?” asked the prosecutor, when Smith was about to leave.

“Oh, just fine,” Smith replied.

“That’s good, keep it up,” was Downing’s God-speed to him.

Whereupon Smith drove away in his stolen car.

“Yep, that’s right.  He did,” was Downing’s good-natured comment when the reporter asked his corroboration of the story.1


1 “Horse Laugh,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 17 Mar 1933, p 9 col 2.

Stanley Robert Smith: A Refresher Course

Since I stopped in the middle of Stanley’s story to talk about the death of his sister, Lena, it seems that perhaps a quick refresher course might be in order before jumping back in.

Stanley and Lena were two of the twelve surviving children of George Henry and Mary Lucinda (Rauch) Smith.  My great-grandmother, Clara Viola (Smith) Arras, was also one of this group.

In 1929, when Stanley was about 19 years old, he was arrested repeatedly in the course of a few weeks.  First, for stealing butter, then passing a bad check, and finally, forgery.

Following his third arrest, the victim finally decided to press charges against him and he was held in the Hancock County jail awaiting trial.

He and several other prisoners attempted to escape, though their plan was foiled by a mirror, of all things.

He was convicted and sentenced to a term in the Ohio State Reformatory.

Shortly following his release, Stanley and a fellow inmate, Charles Williams, were arrested for the theft of gasoline from a filling station.  Following another escape attempt, the two were tried and ultimately convicted of highway robbery, which carried a sentence of ten to 25 years in the state penitentiary.

Charles Williams filed an appeal and remained in the Hancock County jail, while Stanley was transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary.

Nearly a year after their arrest, Charles Williams’ case was reviewed by the Ohio State Supreme Court, which ruled that their crime could not be considered highway robbery.  Charles was released with immediate effect, followed soon thereafter by a full pardon for Stanley from the Governor of Ohio.

Unfortunately, Stanley was home with his family for less than a year before he was arrested again.  This time he was suspected of being a fence in an interstate auto theft ring.

Though he attempted to cover for them at first, others, including a teenaged family member, were involved in these shady dealings.

Indexing: Wills of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, 1855

If you need help navigating to the Pennsylvania probate records on FamilySearch, click here for guidance.

Today’s data is from “Wills 1839-1870 vol 3-5”. Check the first column of the table below for the image number. Type it into the box near the top of the page on FamilySearch (Image __ of 701) to find the desired image.

259 Mary Ross Burrell 4 Jan 1855
260 John Tilbrook Sewickley 19 Jan 1855
Hugh Owens Allegheny 9 Feb 1855
261 Christian Walthour North Huntingdon 7 Mar 1855
Henry Reator Cook 8 Mar 1855
262 William Clark Fairfield 13 Mar 1855
Jacob Brough Donegal 14 Mar 1855
263 Armor Mellon Unity 31 Mar 1855
Polly Rugh Washington 2 Apr 1855
264 George Myers Hempfield 6 Apr 1855
Robert S Nickerson Derry 27 Apr 1855
265 Michael Meyer Saltlick Twp, Fayette County 28 Apr 1855
266 Allen Rose East Huntingdon 1 May 1855
John Hunter Mt Pleasant 1 May 1855
267 Abraham Stockberger Unity 4 May 1855
Sarah Hurst Mt Pleasant 7 May 1855
268 Thomas Elder Derry 11 May 1855
269 Anne Jane Anderson Borough of Mt Pleasant 15 May 1855
Philip Klingensmith Allegheny 17 May 1855
Cordelia Smith Borough of Greensburg 28 May 1855
270 Samuel Kooken Unity 6 Jun 1855
Thomas Copperstone Borough of Youngstown 15 Jun 1855
271 Agnes Kirker Franklin 28 Jun 1855
Mary Burkholder Derry 3 Jul 1855
272 Gideon G Beer Sewickley 10 Jul 1855
John McDonald Allegheny Co., Maryland 12 Jul 1855
Adam Fisher Mt Pleasant 31 Jul 1855
273 James McLaughlin Burrell 6 Aug 1855
Paul Warden East Huntingdon 21 Aug 1855
274 Joseph Guiger Franklin 31 Aug 1855
William Crosby North Huntingdon 6 Sep 1855
275 Samuel Orr Rostraver 6 Sep 1855
Robert Rainey Salem 7 Sep 1855
276 Samuel Oliver Hempfield 15 Sep 1855
277 Maria Craig 22 Sep 1855
John Campbell Fairfield 19 Oct 1855
Sarah Johnston Unity 20 Oct 1855
278 Peter Uncapher Loyalhanna 22 Oct 1855
James Kirkwood Washington 13 Nov 1855
Jane Fleming 16 Nov 1855
279 Margaret Fleming 16 Nov 1855
William W McClain Borough of Mt Pleasant 27 Nov 1855
280 Peter George Sr Hempfield 1 Dec 1855
281 Elizabeth Hill Ligonier 11 Dec 1855
Elias Peterson Unity 11 Dec 1855
282 John Martin Wentzler South Huntingdon 26 Dec 1855
John Kline Penn 19 Dec 1855

The Mysterious Fate of Lena Smith: Part Seven

On September 26th, 1917, Lena finally passed away, six days after having swallowed her fatal dose of corrosive sublimate.  Could a sudden change in her condition explain why the family was not present at her death?  It appears that the family was not notified of her tenuous hold on life, otherwise they would surely have rushed to her bedside.

My grandma had told me that Lena’s father, George, and her two brothers-in-law, Oscar “Ray” Champion and Oliver Arras, traveled to Boston when they were notified that Lena had died.  This fact was corroborated in a letter from Lena’s younger sister, Hulda, to my great-uncle, Theron Arras.

The presence of Oscar “Ray” Champion in Boston after Lena’s death is confirmed by her death certificate.  Interestingly, he is listed as the informant.  I expected the death to have been reported by a hospital employee since none of the family was nearby.  Instead, her death was not recorded until about a week and a half after her passing.

lena smith death record

Perhaps it was necessary for a family member to be present to identify the body and provide other pertinent information, such as the names and birthplaces of her parents.

The delay may also be accounted for by the involvement of the medical examiner, who likely performed an autopsy.  The doctor certifying her cause of death was the medical examiner of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Dr. Timothy Leary.

(If you’re like my mother, you might have just giggled.  No, it’s not THAT Timothy Leary, but he was his great uncle!)

In 1927, an article, “The Medical Examiner System”, authored by Dr. Leary, appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  In it, he acknowledged the differences between a medical examiner and a coroner, a distinction that I did not realize existed.

At the time, Massachusetts had been using the medical examiner system for fifty years.  Nearly all the other states in New England had also transitioned to the system by 1927, along with the state of New York.

The job of both a medical examiner and a coroner is to investigate the cause of death when a person dies either suddenly and unexpectedly or under suspicious circumstances.  The distinction between the two is that only a medical examiner is required to have a medical degree.  Though systems vary depending on location, a coroner can be either elected or appointed.

Surprisingly, this situation has not changed over the last hundred years.  In fact, it was addressed by NPR’s All Things Considered as recently as 2011:

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133403760/133443133

While Lena was lucky enough (?!) to die in a state where her death would be properly investigated, it seems highly unlikely that any new information emerged from her autopsy.  The cause of death, corrosive sublimate poisoning (suicidal during temporary insanity), directly ties to the information given in the initial newspaper article.

lena smith death record

Following the medical examiner’s report, Lena’s body would finally have been released to the family for transport home.  She was buried in the family plot at Arlington on October 11, 1917.

mary m smith grave
https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=46787087

So perhaps the big question is, “Why?”  Why was Lena’s death a mystery for generations?  If her father and brother-in-law were present to collect her body and provide information for the death certificate, it seems rather unlikely that they would have been unaware of her cause of death.  Surely the body would not have been released for burial until the cause had been determined.

Perhaps, on that final train journey, with Lena’s body behind them, they wracked their brains for a way to tell the family what had happened.  But how do you tell a mother whose teenaged son has just shipped out for France that her daughter, the only other child to leave home, has killed herself?

I think, in all likelihood, George and Ray made a pact of secrecy.

Together, they lied to Lena’s mother.

They lied to her two adoring sisters, Clara and Minnie, and the rest of her younger siblings.

But it was a lie told out of love.  By keeping her cause of death secret, they spared those who loved her the pain of knowing what agony Lena had experienced in her final days and that she had chosen that fate for herself.

 

 

 

The Family Photo Album: The Arras Family, about 1930

henry arras family 1930

This photo, depicting the family of Henry and Johanna M. (Crates) Arras, was taken in about 1930.  Henry and Johanna themselves are seated at center.  To the right of Johanna are sons Oliver and Homer Arras.  To the left of Henry are Elvina (Arras) Weihrauch and Clarence Arras.  The grown children in the back row are, from left to right, Helen (Arras) Weidman, Carrie (Arras) Huffman, Willard and Ted Arras.

The photo must have been taken outside the home of one of the children, but who?  Clearly someone with a love for plants.  Just look at all those pots!